Philip Oakey

Philip Oakey

Infobox Musical artist
Name = Philip Oakey

Img_capt = Philip Oakey 2007
Img_size =
Landscape = Yes
Background = solo_singer
Birth_name =
Alias = Phil Oakey
Born = birth date and age|1955|10|2
Origin = Hinckley, Leicestershire, England
Instrument = Vocals, Keyboards
Voice_type = Baritone
Genre = Synthpop, Electronica
Occupation = Singer, Composer, Producer
Years_active = 1977 - Present
Label = Fast Product, Virgin Records, EMI, EastWest, Papillon
Associated_acts = The Human League Giorgio Moroder Respect All Seeing I Kings Have Long Arms Hiem

Philip Oakey (born on 2 October, 1955, in Hinckley, Leicestershire, England), is a composer, singer, songwriter and producer.

He is best known as the Lead singer, frontman and co-founder of the famous British synthpop band, The Human League. He has also had an extensive solo music career and collaborated with numerous other artists and producers. He is also an occasional DJ. cite web
title= THL Media Enquiries
author= Robert Windle
year= 2005

Oakey was one of the most visually distinctive music artists of the early 1980s. Through his Synthesiser composition and song writing he ensured that his band The Human League, would become one of the highest profile pop bands of the early 1980s. At the height of their success The Human League released the triple platinum album Dare and Oakey co-wrote and sung the multi million selling single “Don't You Want Me” which was a number one single in both the U.S and UK, where it remains the 25th highest selling single of all time. Oakey has been a key figure in the music business and has been with The Human League for over 30 years. He continues recording and performing internationally to this day.

Early life

Oakey was born on 2nd October 1955 in Hinckley, Leicestershire, he moved to Sheffield at an early age when his father moved jobs to work in the city. He was educated at King Edward VII School in Sheffield. He left school at 18 without finishing his exams and worked in a number of casual jobs. In a University Bookshop and from 1975 as a porter at Thornbury Annex Hospital in Sheffield. He was married briefly to his school time girlfriend but the marriage did not last long and he divorced in 1980.

Entry into music

Oakey’s entry into music in 1977 was entirely accidental. He had bought a saxophone but had given up trying to learn how to play it, and had no aspiration to be in a pop group.In Sheffield 1977 Martyn Ware (a school friend of Oakey’s) , Ian Craig Marsh and Adi Newton had formed a band called ‘The Future’. Although they had recorded a number of demo tapes, they remained unsigned. They were part of an emerging genre of music that used analogue synthesisers instead of traditional instruments, which would later be defined as Synthpop. Newton quickly left the band after they were turned down by record companies. To replace him Ware decided that The Future needed a dedicated lead singer. His first choice was Glen Gregory, but Gregory was unavailable. So Ware suggested his old school friend Philip Oakey to Marsh. Although Oakey had absolutely no musical experience he was well known on the Sheffield social scene, principally for his eclectic dress sense and classic motorcycle. The lack of experience didn’t bother Ware as he declared that Oakey “already looked like a pop star”. Ware went to visit Oakey to ask him to join The Future, finding him away from home he famously left a note on Oakey’s front door asking him to join the Future as lead singer. Oakey quickly accepted the offer and joined The Future as lead singer in mid 1977.

Human League career

The Future would be short lived, in late 1977 the band was renamed ‘The Human League’ after an element of a science fiction board game. The new band played their first live gig at Psalter Lane Arts College in June 1978 (a blue plaque now marks the spot) and signed to Fast Records. The early Human League had a reputation for being arty and had only limited commercial success; releasing singles Being Boiled and Empire State Human with lyrics written by Oakey. They would eventually release two albums Reproduction (1979) and Travelogue (1980). But dogged by the lack of commercial success Oakey and Ware’s working relationship became increasingly strained. In October 1980 on the eve of a European tour it reached breaking point and Ware walked out taking Marsh with him. Oakey and director of visuals Adrian Wright were permitted to retain the band name but would be responsible for all band debts and the tour commitment.With the tour promoters threatening to sue Oakey and facing financial ruin, he had less than a week to put a new band together. In an unplanned move that is now entrenched in popular folklore Oakey went into Sheffield city centre and recruited two totally unknown teenage schoolgirls: Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall into the band. He now calls this the best decision of his career, as the girls would be critical in the band's further success. And now as women in their mid forties, they are today his business partners in the present day band. [ Liverpool Echo 02/12/2005 [] ]

In mid 1981 Oakey and Catherall would enter into a long term relationship that would last until the end of the decade. Later that year at the height of the band’s success they were touted as a celebrity couple; but were also pursued by the tabloid press after a sensationalist story. Oakey and Catherall would split amicably in 1990 remaining friends and colleagues, contrary to press stories they never married. Catherall has since married. cite web
title= Oakey Interview - Metro Magazine
author= James Ellis
year= 2001
After the tour in April 1981 the band had their first top 20 hit "Sound of the Crowd" and with the addition of Jo Callis they went on to release the number three single "Love Action (I Believe in Love)".Briefly during 1981 Oakey truncated his name to Phil, and even referred to himself as Phil in “Love Action”. He would not use it for long quickly returning to Philip. He would later say "I’ve never been a Phil I’m a formal sort of person really" [ The 2005 [}] . The band under Oakey’s direction then released another single "Open Your Heart", then a full album Dare much of it written by Oakey. Dare would soon become a number one album in the UK and go double platinum. It has since been called one of Pop music's most influential albums responsible for shaping an entire genre of music. At the end of 1981, the Oakey and Sulley conflicting duet Don't You Want Me would sell 2 million copies in the UK staying at number one for 4 weeks. It would do the same in the US selling another million. By the end of 1981/82 Oakey and the Human League would be famous worldwide.

The remainder of the 1980s saw the band's success peak and dip, with the follow up release of the follow up album Hysteria in 1984 underachieving. In 1986 Oakey accepted an offer to work with US producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis which resulted in the release of the Album Crash and the single "Human" which became another international hit and went to number one in the US. By 1987 the band had lost most of its original members leaving only Oakey, Sulley and Catherall. In 1989 Oakey persuaded Sheffield City Council to invest in business development loan for the building of Human League Studios in Sheffield, Oakey's dedicated studio for the band and a commercial venture.The 1990 album Romantic? failed to sell and in 1992 Virgin records cancelled the band's recording contract. This had a devastating effect on the band causing Oakey to seek counselling for depression, and Sulley to have a breakdown. The emotional problems of the pair nearly caused the band to fold. Thanks mainly to the efforts of Catherall by 1993 Oakey and Sulley had recovered and the band was back on its feet. They signed to Eastwest records which resulted in the release of the gold selling album Octopus and the hit singles "Tell Me When" and "One Man in My Heart".

Another change of record label saw the release of critically acclaimed "Secrets" album in 2001. Secrets failed to sell because the record label went into receivership curtailing promotion. After the failure of a project he had put so much work and time into, Oakey lost faith in the record industry and changed the band's focus in to more lucrative live work. Between 2002 and the present day they have toured almost constantly either on their own or as guests at festivals. They have played at such presigious events as V festival, Festival Internacional de Benicàssim and to 18000 fans at the Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles in 2006.

olo & collaborative career

Oakey’s career in music has rarely been confined to just the Human League. He has worked on his own, but also with numerous other artists and producers.His first collaboration was producing the Spanish released single "Amor Secreto" by Nick Fury in 1983 for which he also played Synthesizer, together with Jo Callis. Dro Records 1983] ] His highest profile and most commercially successful collaboration was with producer Giorgio Moroder. In 1984 for the film Electric Dreams he and Moroder provided the film theme song "Together in Electric Dreams". When later released as a single it would go on to become an international hit, actually eclipsing the film it was intended to promote. Ironically it would also become a bigger hit than some of Oakey’s Human League singles of the same period.

In 1985 Oakey and Moroder would release the joint album "Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder" which would generate two single releases, “Be My Lover Now” and "Good-Bye Bad Times". Released in both the UK and USA these singles were not as successful as “Together in Electric Dreams” and the Oakey/Moroder partnership was effectively ended.

In 1990 Oakey guest vocalled on “What Comes After Good-Bye", the one off release by short lived Sheffield dance band ‘Respect’. In 1999 he provided vocals for the single “1st Man in Space” by another Sheffield band “All Seeing I”. The song was written by Jarvis Cocker.

In 2003 he provided vocals for another Sheffield band Kings Have Long Arms on the single “Rock and Roll is Dead”; also in 2003 he worked with Producer/DJ Alex Gold and they released the trance single "LA Today"

In 2008 Oakey worked with Hiem a band fronted by former "All Seeing I" lead singer David "Bozz" Boswell on the song "2 am" which is intended to be released as a single. Oakey (often with Neil Sutton) has written music for third parties which has been released anonymously or published uncredited. He has infrequently guest DJ’d, one of his sets entitled “The history of the synthesizer.” was streamed live over the internet.

In mid 2008 Oakey wrote for Tony Christie's latest album "Made in Sheffield" [ NME 01/08/08 [] ]

Personal Style

Throughout his career and in his personal life Oakey has been a very flamboyant dresser and fashion trend setter. His entry into music was precipitated by his reputation for style. His outrageous dress sense and original hairstyle would make him an iconic figure of the early 1980s music scene.

Pre 1977, during the era of Punk rock Oakey adopted various styles; at one time having a crew cut but later he had collar length hair and had once turned up in one club wearing a household power lead with plug as a necklace. He also often wore bike leathers and rode a distinctive Old Norton motorcycle around Sheffield. His natural good looks combined with his flamboyant style was the main reason Martin Ware invited him to join his pop band ‘The Future’ in 1977. Ware who chasing commercial success, reasoned that half the battle was won "as Oakey already looked like a Popstar".

Soon after 'The Future' transformed into 'The Human League', Oakey as lead singer wanted a look that would make him stand out from other lead singers. After spotting a girl on a Sheffield bus with a Veronica Lake hair style, Oakey was inspired to adopt a strange lopsided geometric hairstyle, shoulder length on one side and short on the other. As the Human League increased in prominence the hairstyle would became Oakey’s trademark. Between 1978-1979 with his unique hairstyle he maintained a masculine dress style and at one time wore a full beard.

Increasingly interested in attracting the limelight and standing out from the crowd, in 1979 inspired by the 1970s Glamrock style of Brian Eno Oakey began wearing makeup; his style became increasingly more feminine including the use of bright red lipstick.

By 1981 after the formation of the Mk2 Human League, Oakey’s trademark style of the early 1980s was complete. As well as full make up, Oakey had begun wearing androgynous clothing, which he described as "neither male nor female". The addition of teenage school girls Susanne Sulley and Joanne Catherall as co-vocalists to the band in 1980 complemented his look. At times all three would wear the same eyeliner and lipstick. Oakey and Catherall who then entered into a relationship with each other often looked and dressed almost identically.

The media regularly commented and joked about his style (unwittingly achieving Oakey's aim). Fearlessly Oakey pushed his unique style further and began wearing high heeled shoes. He already had both his ears pierced and wore dangling women’s diamante earrings. Keen to shock, on one of the 'new' Human League's posters in 1981 Oakey posed shirtless displaying pierced nipples linked together by a gold chain.

His style of 1981-1982 would provoke much comment at the time and is still regularly referred to by the media today. Although it is a style now some 28 years old, the media still seldom let him forget it. It would also cause erroneous assumptions then and now about his sexuality. In reply, the staunchly heterosexual Oakey often acerbically quips "“My girlfriend always says I should be gay”". Another common media error was that Oakey and The Human League were part of the New Romantic movement. Oakey and the band, whose look was unique and pre-dated the start of the Blitz Kids never identified with the New Romantic scene, although they seldom challenged the media label while it helped sell records. It wasn’t just a stage look and Oakey openly went about in public in full make up, dressed in his eclectic style, he claims that "Sheffield was so accepting that no one ever blinked an eyelid"." Oakey jokes that when he sought parental permission for the girls to go on the 1980 tour, that the father of Susan Sulley (then aged 17) only let her go on tour with the Human League because "“He wasn’t entirely sure I was a man”."

After the international success of "Dare", Oakey tired of the androgynous look and then by 1983 had adopted a more macho look of denim, collar length permed hair and the ill shaven ‘designer stubble’.

For the "Crash" album of 1986 Oakey adopted a smoother style of designer clothes of the period and a very manicured look which he says was inspired by Sean Young’s Character ‘Rachael’ from the film Blade Runner.

By 1990 the Human League had seriously begun to decline. For their "Romantic?" album, Oakey wore denim, leather and readopted his lop sided hairstyle from 1981 in a rebellion against "the male model look of Crash". The band went through dark times and the style was quickly abandoned. When the band returned in a comeback in 1995, the mature (then 40 year old) Oakey reappeared with designer clothes and a sauvé short neat hair cut.

In 1998 Oakey began to suffer from male pattern baldness and after advice from his hair stylist, in 1999 he adopted an all over ‘number two’ crop hairstyle. This is the style he wears today, albeit that his hair has now completely greyed.

Today Oakey is still known for his dapper style, but now generally wears a simple Armani suit on stage. Although he has not lost his desire to shock, and recently boasted during a newspaper interview that he had recently acquired a Prince Albert piercing, which he says "“hurt less than having his ears pierced”". [ [ Oakey Interview, Sunday Sun Newspaper 2007] ]


Today Oakey still lives in central Sheffield with his long term girlfriend, close to his studio; and long term colleagues Sulley and Catherall. He continues to work full time in the music industry, principally touring with the Human League. When not touring he works in the studio or with other artists. He has stated that he is currently working on a 10th studio album for the Human League although he refuses to be drawn on a timescale for its release.

Human League discography

tudio Albums

*"Reproduction" (1979)
*"Travelogue" (1980)
*"Dare" (1981)
*"Love and Dancing" (1982)
*"Hysteria" (1984)
*"Crash" (1986)
*"Romantic?" (1990)
*"Octopus" (1995)
*"Secrets" (2001)

Number One Singles

*"Don't You Want Me" - 1981 (UK)(25th highest selling single of all time), 1982 (U.S)(AUS)(NZ)
*"Human" - 1986 (U.S)

olo discography


*"Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder'" Virgin, 1985


*"Together In Electric Dreams" "(with Giorgio Moroder)", Virgin Records, 1984
*"Good-Bye Bad Times" "(with Giorgio Moroder)", Virgin, 1985
*"Be My Lover Now" "(with Giorgio Moroder)", Virgin, 1985
*"What Comes After Good-Bye" "(Respect featuring Philip Oakey)", Chrysalis Records, 1990
*"1st Man in Space" "(All Seeing I, vocals by Philip Oakey)", FFRR Records, 1999
*"Rock and Roll is Dead" "(Kings Have Long Arms featuring Philip Oakey)", Heart and Soul Records, 2003
*"LA Today" "Alex Gold (featuring Philip Oakey)", Xtravaganza Records, 2003

Film and Television

*1990 "The Weekenders" (TV) (D. Vic Reeves) - Played Himself
*1999 "Hunting Venus" (Buffalo Films, D. Martin Clunes) - Played Himself


* 1982 BRIT Awards - (as 'The Human League') - 'Best British Breakthrough Act'
* 2004 Q Awards - (as 'The Human League') - 'The Q Innovation In Sound Award'

* Nominated for Grammy Award in 1982 for Best International Act (as 'The Human League')

Further reading

* "Story of a Band Called "The Human League" by Alaska Ross (Proteus July 1982) ISBN 978-0862761035

ee also


External links

Oakey deliberately does not have an official website.
* [ "Blind Youth"] - A website dedicated to the history of the original Human League (pre 1981).
* [ "The Black Hit of Space"] Officially recognised Human League website.

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